Our current model of leadership where leadership is concentrated in senior executives and layers of management is getting out-dated fast. It worked really well in the fairly predictable world of the 20th century. But our world is getting more and more complex and inter-connected. What we need is leadership from everyone, not just senior executives, but also employees: Customer Service Representatives, Software Developers, Marketeers etc.
But if everyone is leading all the time, we are not going anywhere.
I strongly believe that one of the most valuable skills to have these days is the ability to know when to lead and when to follow.
While I was thinking of a good term for this both Bob Marshal and Bruce Morton wrote about fellowship instead of leadership, which has stuck with me since.
So I wondered.. what can we learn from the most famous and most successful fellowship ever?
That fellowship is of course The Fellowship of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings.
What we should see is people switching between following and leading when the situation asks for it. Let’s walk through the members of the Fellowship one by one.
The oldest and wisest of the fellowship and the de-facto leader of the Fellowship. As seen in Exhibit A, he leads the Council of Elrond to decide to destroy the Ring.
I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond, for the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West! The Ring is altogether Evil!
But because he can not carry the ring himself he is the first to follow Frodo when Frodo decides to volunteer for the mission.
I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear
In Exhibit A Frodo is obviously leading the soon-to-be fellowship when he takes it upon himself to take the Ring to Mount Doom.
I will take it! I will take it!
And then immediately switches.
I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though– I do not know the way.
Even though he is ultimately unsuccessful, Boromir does try to lead in Exhibit A as he tries to convince the Council to let him take the ring to Gondor.
It is a gift. A gift to the foes of Mordor. Why not use this Ring? Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay. By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe! Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him.
But once the Council has made up its mind Boromir switches to following and he joins the Fellowship.
You carry the fate of us all little one. If this is indeed the will of the Council, then Gondor will see it done.
Before and immediately after the Council of Elrond, Aragorn was not leading, but following Gandalf. That changed quickly with the demise of Gandalf at the hands of the Balrog, as can be seen in Exhibit B: The Death of Gandalf.
By nightfall these hills will be swarming with Orcs! We must reach the woods of Lothlórien. Come, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, get them up.
Legolas and Gimli are mostly following Gandalf and Aragorn throughout the quest. Their strength is in battle and that is where they contribute most. The exceptions are when they lead the fellowship on and off the mountain Caradhras and through Moria respectively.
One of the Hobbits. Not a brave warrior or leader, but both Pippen and Merry do manage to lead the Ents in their war against Saruman. As can be seen in Exhibit C: Last Marsh of the Ents.
Besides getting the Ents to beat up poor Saruman, Merry also leads himself and Eowyn into battle in Exhibit D: Merry and Eowyn going to battle. In that battle both of them teamed up to kill The Witchking of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul.
But perhaps the best example is Samwise Gamgee. Sam has been a loyal follower to Frodo throughout this quest. He has taken care of Frodo, carried his backpack, cooked for him, kept watch etc. But when Frodo was about to give up in despair Sam lifted his spirits and lead Frodo through the rest of Mordor. His speech can be seen in Exhibit E: Sam’s Speech
When you think of leadership in the Lord of the Rings you immediately think of Gandalf or Aragorn. They did indeed do a whole lot of leading, but we should not discount the smaller acts of leadership from everyone in the Fellowship of the Ring. If any of these acts had not happened, the ring would have never been destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.
So how many fellowships do you have in your organisation? Teams in which every team member has a chance to lead, based on their strengths. How many approvals are needed to go that extra mile for a great customer? How many forms are you forced to fill in so people can get the tools they need to do their job properly?